What is Life and Being?
by Dr. Parviz Dehghani
As soon as we ask this question, we’re bound to ask the next question, namely, what is death? How do we know what life is, unless we know something about death? People are falling all around us like autumn leaves. Every time they leave, they’re replaced by a vacuum. When a person dies, he or she is non-existent to us. Don’t the dead bodies exist? Don’t their ashes also exist? They do exist. But they’re no longer a whole. What do we mean by that? A dead body, on the one hand, is your husband. On the other hand, it is not. It is like a statue now, very similar to your husband. However, there is something missing here. What is that? There must be a reality which holds the whole person together. The dead individual is simply half but not whole. Do these halves exist? Of course they do. But when he was alive, he existed totally and not partially. Being alive means you live and possess life. When we ask: What is life; we are seeking the essence of life? The subjects of essence and existence were of great importance in the medieval time. Long before that, when Confucius was asked: What is life after death? He responded by asking: Do you know what life is first? He was in fact saying that your question shouldn’t be about what is next? It ought to be regarding life and death. One is meaningless without the other. Death seems to be the absence of life or being. Any vacuum reminds us of death. Void, emptiness, and vacuity are indications of death. As life is absence of death, death is absence of life. Remember, we’re in this world and have no idea about those who’re no longer with us. Vacuum implies a lack of existence in our world. However, it doesn’t mean this is the case for those who have left us for the other world, if there is one. Logically I can’t say nothingness exists. ‘Nothing’ doesn’t exist. ‘Something’ does.
I wonder if we can say the same thing about those who have departed! Do they exist? Some believe they do and some believe they don’t. I personally and rationally think they must in some forms. As soon as someone passes on, we think he or she is not on the radar of existence.
I believe existence being a general concept, applies to everything. Therefore, there is nothing that doesn’t exist. Then why in logic ‘nothing’ doesn’t exist? What is ‘nothing’ anyway? It is void, emptiness, and vacuum. Do I see anything by looking at an empty room? Not really. When I’m asked to check the rooms in the house that is sold or the motel we’re about to leave and turn in the key, I start going to each and every room to see if there is anything left. I then say, there is nothing in all those rooms. Is there anything in this room, my wife asks? The answer is nothing. So there is nothing in this room. We talk as if nothing is something. But is ‘nothing’ a thing? Why not? Even though we’re speaking in the realm of logic, we can see ‘nothing’ can be considered as something. Because it is the opposite of something, first of all and its functions are undeniable in our language. A room may appear as empty, but it is not. There is no absolute emptiness in this world of relativity. Once the sun pierces through the window of an empty room, we can see millions of particles of dust. Each particle, once divided, reach the level where it can’t be divided further. An empty space can’t represent the Ultimate Void or Emptiness of which Buddhists have talked about. The absolute Vacuum is a transcendent Reality, which is not subject of the relativity of this world. We have empty buildings, which participate in the Form of Emptiness. A room is like a prison for the existing emptiness in side. The Ultimate Void is not surrounded by walls.
Let me remind you that we’re still in the realm of logic. Language is still our problem. As long as we’re provided binary, we’re unable to even explain what we mean by absolute
nothingness. The opposite of emptiness, for example, is fullness. There’s no place for duality in the Ultimate Reality.
Socratic Method of reaching the truth was dialogue. The truth ought to emerge in this process from between the two sides. This is the logic of neither/ nor. ‘Philosophia Negativa’ is what we’re dealing with. The truth is the third option. Neither thesis/ nor antithesis, which leads to synthesis. But synthesis is not the answer, which needs to become thesis itself. That is why philosophy, for Socrates, was truth pursued, not possessed like in Religion.
What is life? We hear Madonna singing: ‘Life is a mystery’. The meaning of life is very complicated. Some like Albert Camus; the Algerian French writer believed life was absurd. (1913-60) Thus, there is no reason to ask for its meaning. However, we’re interested in life itself not whether it is absurd or beautiful. I would like to know why we’re being. What is the essence of being? What is the whatness of life? What is its nature? We don’t want again to know about its attributes. Everything is, but why? Is there a Form of life or being? If beauty has a Form for Plato, then being must have its Form. After all, we’re dealing with Being and becoming. Being is the realm of Parmenides and becoming is the abode of Heraclitus. Being is transcendent while becoming is not. Being is perfect whereas becoming is imperfect. It seems there’s a perfect life or existence in the infinite and eternal reality of which Plato talked about. The life of this world is only a reflection of the one above. In other words, this is not Heaven, whatever that may be. This phenomenon of being, which is the manifestation of imperfection is here to indicate the Ultimate Reality called Brahman in Hinduism. It is the possibility within the Ultimate Reality to extend itself in the form of imperfection. Unless there’s imperfection, perfection can’t be perfection. From our point of view, for example, a Shakespearian actor like the late Lawrence Oliver was one of the best in the world. He was by far a Beethoven of his time. However, there
were times when he accepted roles that were way below his dignity. Perhaps even a perfect actor like him could play the ugliest role, not because he was desperate, but for the fact that he could and it was a possibility within him. This was part of his perfection without which he wouldn’t be perfect. The same is true about the late Robert Williams.
The whole universe and universes are here due to the perfection of the Ultimate Reality. Life or being, therefore, is as a result of perfection. Neither of them makes sense without the other. Would this create a duality in the Ultimate Reality? No, because in the final analysis, this imperfection is like 0+1=1. The sun and its rays are one. In other words, this world of imperfection is at the end, what the Hindus call, Maya or an illusion. Finally, there is only One Reality. This is not a numerical 1. There’s no –1 or +1. It is simply One, pure and simple.
Mr. Miyagi said in the movie, ‘The next karate kid’ (1994): Never trust spiritual leader who doesn’t dance’. We should never trust the monks who don’t know how to dance. We ought not to trust a monk who can’t dance. Shiva, in the guise of Nataraj, the cosmic dancer, dances in the universe. (H. Smith) Thus, life is the dance of the Ultimate Reality. No matter how absurd life may be, it is still beautiful.